In which The Author indulges his sweet tooth
After eleven long months, the Scottish shortbread selection has finally taken up residence under my roof. This year, for the first time, they’ve been joined by three Xmas puddings and a chocolate Swiss roll. Even though my house remains stubbornly Xmas-free (not even the cards from my neighbours have made it as far as the mantelpiece), the eagerly-awaited festive feast has landed.
What takes the biscuits so long to get here? It’s not that far from Scotland to South Wales, so why do we have to wait the best part of a year for them to arrive? Perhaps they hibernate for months in the remote pine forests of the Highlands, before emerging fully-formed in their buttery deliciousness and flying south for the winter, on their epic journey to supermarkets and corner shops throughout the civilized world.
The biscuits aren’t the only things that appear at this season. Where do mixed nuts spend the rest of the year? Surely we don’t import them in their millions just so that they can sit gathering dust, uneaten and unloved amongst the empty Quality Street and After Eight wrappers, until spring comes and they are ignominiously thrown out as inedible (or, quite possibly in this greenwash age, composted instead).
Dates. There’s another mystery. Not the debate over whether Jesus was really born in the bleak midwinter, or some time in the spring – or even the long-standing argument about whether we should have started numbering the years at 4 BCE instead. I’m talking about the strange brown wrinkled objects that appear in cartouche-shaped wooden boxes at this time of year. If the Scottish Shortbread is in fact the Monarch butterfly of the confectionery world, maybe these things are the chrysalises, waiting to hatch into crumbly biscuits eminently fit for human consumption – most unlike the pupal form.
It’s not only items of food which appear on our shores at this time of year. When the days shorten and the leaves turn to shades of gold, the first pocket handkerchiefs make landfall in our shops. During their brief sojourn in our country, they are purchased by the million as obvious presents for male relatives. Have you tried buying them at any other time of year? Go into Burton’s or Debenhams at the height of summer, and not one single handkerchief will be on display. No doubt the long journey from China or India on board ship shortens their shelf life considerably, and many must perish on the way. They seem to have the shortest season of any consumable except the pumpkin.
Other exotic species which only visit our islands at this time of year include novelty bubble baths and soap-on-a-rope. When I was younger, this latter creature was very common. Now, it is so rarely seen that I suspect that it may be protected under a CITES agreement. Maybe in a few years from now, the soap-on-a-rope will be finally declared extinct in the wild. I hope not. The captive-bred ones aren’t as robust and disappear much more quickly than their free-range relatives.
Maybe there really is a gigantic warehouse (possibly at the North Pole, as the tradition would have it) where these migratory animals spend their time, feeding and maturing ready for their arduous journeys to our homes. In comparison, it would make Amazon’s new distribution centre outside Swansea look like the shelves of someone’s neglected shed. The sheer logistics of getting these goods from the warehouse to their end-users must be impossibly complicated. Unless …
Maybe Father Christmas and his army of helpers really do lend a hand. Perhaps, cleverly disguised as HGV drivers and White Van Men, the elves of Lapland transport their cargoes of shortbread and dates and handkerchiefs across the world for the six weeks preceding Christmas. Using top-flight computer technology to organise the deliveries and ensure that every shop is adequately stocked with exotic treats, all that remains for The Man Himself to do is to simultaneously deliver one shiny orange satsuma to every man, woman and child on earth. Not even Amazon can manage that.
Maybe this year I should arrange to stay out overnight on Christmas Eve, to see if I can prove this hypothesis. Wouldn’t it be great if I got home and found a Christmas card on the doormat: ‘We tried to deliver your satsuma, but you were out’?